An evergreen shrub or a small tree, in the wild up to 15 ft high; young shoots stout, downy. Leaves obovate, 3 to 7 in. long, half or rather more than half as much wide, dark dull green and wrinkled above; covered beneath with a rich, soft, brownish red wool; veins twelve to fifteen on each side of the midrib which is terminated by a yellowish, knob-like, shining mucro. Flowers in March or April in hemispherical trusses about 5 in. wide, carrying over a dozen blossoms; flower-stalk about 1⁄2 in. long, very woolly. Calyx very small. Corolla tubular-bell-shaped, rosy scarlet to deep crimson, 2 in. wide, 11⁄2 in. long, with five notched lobes, each 7⁄8 in. wide. Stamens ten, 3⁄4 to 1 in. long, glabrous; anthers dark brown. Ovary silky-hairy; style glabrous, 11⁄2 in. long. Bot. Mag., t. 9419. (s. Neriiflorum ss. Haematodes)
R. mallotum was discovered by Kingdon Ward in 1914 above the Hpimaw pass, N.E. upper Burma, on the Nmai-Salween divide. It was introduced by Farrer in 1919 from the same locality, and also simultaneously by Forrest, from the China side of the divide. E. H. M. Cox, who accompanied Farrer on his 1919 expedition, later wrote: ‘The entire Burmese side north of the pass was studded with it, rising squat and sturdy out of a sea of Bamboo. It was particularly uniform in size, always about 16 ft in height, with a shiny bronzed trunk… . The flowers were of the deepest and most luminous scarlet imaginable, giving out a glow of hidden light even on the darkest day… . Out on that hillside, with its top above the sea of green, it has to bear the brunt of every wind that blows’ (Farrer’s Last Journey, p. 54).
As Mr Cox anticipated, R. mallotum has proved quite hardy, though it needs light shade and shelter from cold winds. But flowering so early, its value for frosty gardens lies only in its beautiful leaves, etched above, and clad beneath and on the stalks with a vividly coloured indumentum. It is of erect rather narrow habit, usually much taller than wide. The Award of Merit was given to it on March 7, 1933, when shown from Borde Hill, Sussex, by Col. S. R. Clarke.